If a North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) proposal is enacted, three bear sanctuaries in far western North Carolina’s mountains will be opened for hunting in 2022 after 50 years of protection for the bears from both hunting and harassment by hunting dogs. We only have until the end of January to try to stop it.
Found on page 13 of the NCWRC 2022-2023 Inland Fishing, Hunting, Trapping and Gameland Regulations booklet, the proposal would “allow permit hunt opportunities on Panthertown-Bonas Defeat, Pisgah, and Standing Indian Bear Sanctuaries.” The booklet states that the U.S. Forest Service requested this change due to increased “bear–human interactions.” The stated “management objective” is to “stabilize” the population by way of “additional harvest.”
Those of us who love these public lands should be concerned about a bad precedent being set, opening the door for more such changes in the future. Folks on the Tennessee side of the mountains should be aware that if the wildlife commission “gets away” with this in North Carolina it’s likely to be tried soon in Tennessee, in places like the Unicoi Bear Reserve, which includes Rocky Fork. It’s time to take a stand now for bears and wildness.
All outdoor enthusiasts know our public lands have seen a huge increase in use over the last two years, so an increase in human–bear interactions is to be expected. A human–bear interaction (which doesn’t have to be negative and can simply be sighting a bear!) is one of the things most of us hope for when we visit the forest, not something we fear or would have bears killed on account of. To justify opening these areas to hunting based on this increase in interactions is simply flawed logic.
As retired U.S. Forest Service bear expert Bill Lea points out, hunting in these sanctuaries will not target the actual bears involved in “the increased bear-human interactions” but instead target many of the younger bears who have just started life on their own away from their mothers and who have not yet developed the skills to elude the packs of dogs and hunters.
Mother Nature manages bear populations just fine on her own. Unlike some game animals that will overpopulate at times, Black bears adjust their reproductive rate as conditions warrant and thus naturally stabilize their population at or near the carrying capacity of the land. Biologists deciding they need to increase hunting to “manage” and “stabilize” populations represents more flawed logic, and demonstrates the ingrained bias of the system in favor of hunting.
A significant portion of the funding for these biologists comes from hunting license sales so they seek what they call a “continuous yield,” keeping the hunters happy and the money coming in. These public lands and the wildlife on them belong to everybody and at times we must all speak up and prevent this conflict of interest in the system from taking our wildlife away from us. This proposal is reminiscent of loggers in the west wanting access to the very last stands of old-growth timber, can’t we leave anything alone. Vast areas of public lands are open to bear hunting so leaving a few areas as sanctuaries where bears can thrive free from hunting pressure is the least we can do.
Through January 31, 2022, comments on this proposal can be submitted online here, by e-mail, by mailing a letter to Rule-making coordinator, NCWRC,1701 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1701, and at a virtual public hearing set for January 20 at 7 p.m. with registration here.
Surely enough of us can speak up for keeping these few places wild where we can go and see bears behaving naturally, free from harassment by hunting dogs and safe from hunters’ guns. We all own these lands, so all our voices should be heard where it concerns their use.
Learn more at these links:
Recent article in Asheville Citizen Times Featuring Bill Lea